State awards granted for innovations

Companies from East Hartford and Norwalk are the first businesses to receive grants from the Connecticut Innovations Challenge program, which encourages small firms to team up with large corporations and universities to create technological advances.

AgriFuels LLC of East Hartford and Owlstone Inc. of Norwalk will receive $150,000 each through the program, launched last fall by the quasi-public agency Connecticut Innovations. The businesses will provide matching funds to advance their research.

AgriFuels will work in a collaboration with Yale University and the University of Connecticut to address a challenge posed by the German chemical company BASF to develop green refineries. The $150,000 grant will help determine whether AgriFuels' algae cultivation technology can be used in the specialty chemicals, nutraceuticals, food and biofuels industries.

"This project has great potential to help drive the AgriFuels mission of new and innovative fuel sources for our changing economic and environmental needs," said Paul Hoar, president of AgriFuels. "We are excited to have the opportunity to demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale microalgae growth, harvesting and processing."

Owlstone and partner UConn will be working on developing software to detect the threat of airborne chemicals that could be used in the security and defense fields. The challenge posed by Wallingford-based Ultra Electronics Measurement Systems Inc. was to develop a more portable and sensitive technology.

"Since our recent relocation from New York, it has been a great privilege for us to work with the State of Connecticut and now with Connecticut Innovations and UConn to further the development of our business and our next generation detection technology," Thomas Finn, chief financial officer of Owlstone, said in a statement.

The winning proposals were sifted during a competitive review process. Projects were rated on technical merit and innovation, as well as commercialization plans and economic impact.

Teams will have one year to work on their projects.

"The combination of public funding and university research talent is extremely attractive to private businesses," Gary D. LeBeau, Senate chairman of the state legislature's Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

The next round of Innovations Challenge funding will be announced later this year. Visit www.ctihub.com.

l.howard@theday.com

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